This project is funded through an NSF CAREER Award (CHE #1943697, July 1, 2020- June 30, 2025)
The need to produce fuels from sunlight, similar to photosynthesis used by green plants, is the result of increasing global energy demand. The decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen and the generation of fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2) using visible light are important goals. Although a great deal of research has been performed to produce fuels from sunlight, currently there are no effective methods to produce solar fuels at large scale. Using a novel experimental technique, Dr. Mihai Vaida of the University of Central Florida is monitoring the ultrafast reactions of molecules at surfaces, producing real-time movies of atoms and molecules during light-driven reactions. This research is providing unique insights into photocatalytic processes and helping the development of new, highly efficient photocatalysts to speed up solar fuel generation. The research is integrated with an educational program to communicate the importance of clean fuels from renewable sources at the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels. This program is recruiting and mentoring women and underrepresented minority students in STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) disciplines.
With funding from the Chemical Catalysis Program of the Chemistry Division, Dr. Vaida of the University of Central Florida is developing the experimental and educational tools required to investigate, understand, and disseminate results of 2D nanostructured photocatalytic materials and reaction mechanisms that lead to the generation of solar fuels from renewable sources. Employing pump probe photoemission spectroscopy in conjunction with extreme ultraviolet (XUV) laser pulses, this project investigates the charge carrier dynamics at the photocatalyst surface with femtosecond resolution, surface sensitivity, and element specificity. Moreover, pump-probe femtosecond-laser mass spectrometry in conjunction with XUV soft ionization at the surface is employed to decipher the reaction mechanisms through the detection of intermediate species and final products with time-, mass-, and energy resolution. The water-splitting reaction as well as reactions that lead to the formation of fuel molecules via CO2 reduction are studied on 2D transition metal dichalcogenides decorated with metal particles. To support the broader impacts of the project, Dr. Vaida is actively engaged in outreach activities and is working with high school teachers to develop teaching modules focused on renewable energy. In addition, workshops are organized to train undergraduate and graduate students in the field of nanomaterials for renewable energy production and storage.